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Judge Refuses to Force Cabot to Continue Dimock Water Deliveries

A judge in Pennsylvania has denied a request by several Dimock Township families to force Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to continue delivering potable water to their homes.

With his ruling Wednesday, Environmental Hearing Board (EHB) Judge Bernard Labuskes Jr. sided with Cabot and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) against the families' request for an emergency restraining order because they could not demonstrate immediate and irreparable injury from the water deliveries being stopped. The judge held a conference call with all of the parties on Tuesday.

According to court documents filed Wednesday in the case -- Ronald Carter Sr., et al., v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., No. 2011-165-L -- Labuskes has given both sides until 4:30 p.m. on Dec. 7 to submit briefs over another, non emergency restraining order on halting the water deliveries.

"While unnecessary, the appellants can continue to receive bottled and/or trucked water," Cabot attorneys Ken Komoroski, Amy Barrette and Megan Smith Miller said in a letter Monday to Labuskes. "One water hauler in the Dimock area charges two cents per gallon for delivered bulk water. Additionally [the] appellants have testified that they obtain free water from an artesian well in Montrose, PA, that they use for drinking and cooking."

In October the DEP gave Houston-based Cabot permission to discontinue the water deliveries by Wednesday because the company had satisfied the terms and conditions of a December 2010 settlement with the agency (see Shale Daily, Oct. 20; Dec. 17, 2010).

Cabot spokesman George Stark told NGI's Shale Daily that the DEP has not yet acted on a request by the company to resume Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling and well completion activities in a nine-square mile area of Dimock known as the Carter Road Area. Methane migration problems have persisted there since Jan. 1, 2009, when a private water well exploded (see Daily GPI, Jan. 26, 2009).

"I think it will take phases or steps [for Cabot to return to the Carter Road Area]," Stark said Wednesday. "The first phase would be the stopping of the water [deliveries]. The DEP got the data they needed to make that decision. I believe the next step would be the ability to start to complete the wells that are waiting on hydraulic fracturing, and the final step would be to resume drilling operations. We're continuing to work with the DEP and are supplying them with all of the necessary data."

Cabot has been supplying fresh water to many residents in the Carter Road Area for months and, in some cases, years. Under the terms of the December 2010 settlement, Cabot agreed to pay residents with contaminated water supplies $4.1 million and agreed to pay for and install whole-house gas mitigation systems for each of the 19 homes affected. Cabot also agreed to pay the state $500,000 for its two-year investigation into the incident.

Eleven families -- 20 plaintiffs in total -- appealed the DEP's settlement with Cabot to the EHB on Jan. 11, alleging that the DEP negotiated in secret and in bad faith, incorrectly calculated property damages and restored Cabot's ability to resume full permitting.

The appellants also claim that the settlement undermined a parallel lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania -- Norma J. Fiorentino, et al., v. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. and Gas Search Drilling Services Corp., No. 09-cv-2284 -- and scuttled a proposal for a 12-mile water pipeline system that would have connected their homes to municipal water (see Daily GPI, Oct. 1, 2010). A judge ultimately denied Cabot's motion to have the Fiorentino case dismissed, but the water pipeline project was abandoned after the settlement was reached (see Shale Daily, Dec. 1, 2010).

The DEP gave Cabot permission to resume drilling at a well pad in Lenox Township -- also in Susquehanna County -- after an investigation there found no elevated levels of methane in private drinking water wells (see Shale Daily, Sept. 6). The investigation began Aug. 16 after three private drinking water wells appeared to be impacted by methane and a combustible gas was observed bubbling from a local pond (see Shale Daily, Aug. 29).

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